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How To Read Piano Sheet and Notes Like A Pro: Part 2

Updated: Oct 29



Welcome to part two of our blog series on how to read piano sheet music! In the first part of our blog, we learnt about:

  • Stave (or staff)

  • Note values (Semibreves, Minims, Crotchets)

  • Treble Clef and how to read treble clef notes

In this second part we will learn about:

  • Element 3: The Clef

  • Reading Notes On A Bass Clef

  • Reading Bass Clef Notes A Little Faster - "All Cows Eat Grass"

  • Element 4: Time Signature, Bars & Bar Lines

  • Element 5: Rests


Reading Notes On A Bass Clef


The Bass Clef is often associated with the left hand in sheet music for piano players. (It is not always the case, but it would be good to assume so if you are just beginning to learn to read sheet music). In the illustration of an actual piano sheet music below, you will see two different staves with different clefs.


The stave on top is written in Treble Clef, and is to be played by the piano player's right hand, and the stave in the bottom is written in Bass clef, and is to be played by the piano player's left hand.


In order to read the notes on a bass clef, you'd first want to familiarize yourself with where middle C is on a bass clef. Refer to the illustration below, on the left


By knowing where middle C on a bass clef is, you can figure out any other note on a bass clef by counting down the stave. See illustration above, on the right. Once again, notice that as you climb down the stave, it is done by step, in a line-space-line-space manner; be careful not to skip steps! Also note that this time round, as you are climbing down the stave, each subsequent note will follow the alphabetical order in reverse.


With this knowledge, you should now be able to figure out any note on a bass clef, by counting down from the middle C note. Let's put this into action. Consider the following music excerpt:


If we were trying to determine the first note in the above excerpt, here's how we can do it:


Step 1: Copy the note in question to an empty stave and write a middle C note beside it to compare it side by side. (See illustration below)


Step 2: Climb down the stave to get from middle C to the note in question. Be sure to do this by step, in a line-space-line-space manner. (see illustration below



Step 3: Label the each subsequent note according to the alphabetical order in reverse. (recall that since we are climbing down the stave, the order of the notes is the alphabet in reverse; e.g. one note below 'C', would be 'B') Refer to the illustration below

From the above illustration, you can see that the note in question is F. Hence, by counting down from middle C, we are able to figure out any note we want on a bass clef stave.


Reading Bass Clef Notes A Little Faster - "All Cows Eat Grass"


Although we managed to figure out the bass clef note in question, one can easily see how this is a tedious process, especially with notes that are further away from middle C. Therefore, as with our reading of Treble Clef notes in Part 1 (click here if you have not yet read part 1), it would be helpful to remember more reference points to count from. For Bass Clef, the notes in the spaces are 'A', 'C', 'E', 'G'. An easy way to remember this is 'All Cows Eat Grass'. (See illustration below)



This would give you more reference points to count from when you are trying to figure out a note in bass clef. Let's try out with an example. Recall the excerpt from before:


Let's say we are trying to figure out that first note in the above illustration. Here's how we would go about doing that:


Step 1: Copy the note in question to an empty stave and write the notes 'A', 'C', 'E', 'G' and middle C beside it to compare them side by side


Step 2: Determine which reference point is nearest to the note in question. In this case, the nearest note in question is 'A'


Step 3: Climb down (or up) the stave to get from the nearest reference point to the note in question. Be sure to do this by step, in a line-space-line-space manner. (see below)


Step 4: Label the note names accordingly (Refer to the illustration below)

From the above illustration, you can see that the note in question is two steps below our reference point of 'A'. Hence, counting down two steps from 'A', we would arrive at the note 'F'.


From this, it should not be hard to appreciate the value of remembering that the notes in the spaces of a bass clef stave spell out 'A', 'C', 'E, 'G' ("All Cows Eat Grass") as it gives you more reference points to count from when trying to figure out notes on a bass clef.



Element 4: Time Signature, Bars & Bar Lines


Now take a look at the sheet music excerpt below


Notice how, in the illustration above, the music is separated into bars by the use of bar lines (see red text in the illustration above).


It is important to note that the total time value of all the notes within a bar stays the same from bar to bar (see blue text and red text in the illustration below), and this total time value is determined by the time signature (see orange text in the illustration below)



In the above illustration, the time signature shown is 4/4 (see orange box). The time signature, 4/4, means that the total time value of a bar is equivalent to 4 crotchets.


In interpreting any given time signature we have the consider:

  1. The Top Number - this dictates the number of beats

  2. The Bottom Number - this dictates the type of beat

  3. '2' in the bottom refers to a minim (half note)

  4. '4' in the bottom refers to a crotchet (quarter note)

Here are some examples:

In the above shown 4/4 time signature, the total time value of each bar is equivalent to 4 crotchet (aka quarter note) beats.

In the above shown 3/4 time signature, the total time value of each bar is equivalent to 3 crotchet (aka quarter note) beats.

In the above shown 2/4 time signature, the total time value of each bar is equivalent to 2 crotchet (aka quarter note) beats.

In the above shown 4/2 time signature, the total time value of each bar is equivalent to 4 minim (aka half note) beats.

In the above shown 3/2 time signature, the total time value of each bar is equivalent to 3 minim (aka half note) beats.

In the above shown 2/2 time signature, the total time value of each bar is equivalent to 2 minim (aka half note) beats.



Element 5: Rests


Apart from musical notation that instructs a player to play a note, there also exists musical notation that instructs a player not to play anything for specified durations of time - these are called 'rests'. During these 'rests', the player should ensure that the instrument is not making a sound - for a pianist, this means letting go of the key to stop the sound; for a guitarist, this means muting the strings for the duration of the rest.


Take a look at the excerpt of sheet music below to see some examples of rest notations:


From the above illustration, you can see that there are three different types of rest notation, with each of them indicating to the performer to 'rest' for different time durations.


The rest that you see on the left (see red text in illustration above) is a crotchet rest (also called a quarter note rest) The time duration of this rest is equivalent to that of a crotchet, hence its duration is one count.


The rest that you see in the middle (see blue text in illustration above) is a minim rest (also called a half note rest) The time duration of this rest is equivalent to that of a minim, hence its duration is two counts.


The rest that you see on the right (see orange text in illustration above) is a semibreve rest (also called a whole note rest) The time duration of this rest is equivalent to that of a semibreve, hence its duration is four counts.


It would be worth noting that a semibreve rest can be used as a full bar rest for time signatures 2/4 and 3/4 as well. Take a look at the example below:

In the above example, a semibreve rest is used in a context of 2/4 time signature. In this scenario, it is functioning as a full bar rest, hence its time duration is no longer 4 counts, but 2 counts.

In the above example, a semibreve rest is used in a context of 3/4 time signature. In this scenario, it is functioning as a full bar rest, hence its time duration is no longer 4 counts, but 3 counts.


With that, we have come to the end of part 2 of our blog series on how to read sheet music. In part 3, we will be covering more new topics including quavers, semiquavers, dotted notes, accidentals and more!